Survivor Helps Put Abuser Behind Bars in One of Region’s Biggest Trafficking Busts (Part 2)
Colorado woman details harrowing five months caught up in sex ring
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Mar 23, 2023
Penny (Gallegos) King, is a retired Colorado State Highway Trooper and former member of the FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force. She was instrumental in helping Breahannah Leary face her trafficker, which helped lead to the arrest of Brock Franklin and his five co-conspirators in 2015. (Courtesy photo from Penny King)
By Jennifer Kocher
Special to the Wyoming Truth
This is the second story in a three-part series about a sex trafficking survivor who helped put her trafficker behind bars. Check out part one here. Given the graphic nature of the story, which involves violence and references sex acts, reader discretion is advised.
Breahannah Leary still gets emotional when she describes how she broke free of her sex trafficker nearly eight years ago and helped put him in prison.
In 2015, Brock Franklin, 31, along with five accomplices, were indicted on 59 trafficking and other charges. Two years later, he received a 472-year sentence for 30 of those counts related to the child and adult prostitution of three girls and five women, including Leary. Franklin’s co-conspirators received varying sentences for crimes related to violations of the Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA), with sentences ranging from four-year deferred sentences to 18 years in prison.
In a statement following the sentence, George Brauchler, former district attorney for Colorado’s 18th district, called Franklin a “remorseless defendant” whose “victims will be traumatized for the rest of their lives.”
Leary was able to face down Franklin with the help of Penny (Gallegos) King, a retired Colorado State Highway Trooper and former member of the FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force.
In her first interview since Franklin was sentenced six years ago, Leary told the Wyoming Truth that she escaped in 2015 after being under his control. She’s finally ready to share her story to shed light on the largely misdiagnosed and under-reported problem of trafficking and to inspire other survivors to come forward. The following account comes from interviews with Leary and King, as well as court documents.
A cycle of constant fear
During the roughly five months that Leary was under his control, Franklin kept her and his other five to nine victims hooked on drugs and controlled them through coercion and violence.
Franklin sent Leary and other girls with his accomplice, Michelle Payne, who also was indicted with Franklin, on circuits throughout the West. They placed online ads for escorts on Backpage (which was shut down by the FBI in 2018) and traveled from Denver to Los Angeles and many cities in between, where they each met up to five buyers a night in hotels.
All text notifications from potential buyers were sent and received on their phones forwarded to and controlled by Franklin, who ran the trafficking ring from his home in downtown Denver. Franklin confiscated all their earnings; the women were given just enough for food and gas money.
Every afternoon, Franklin ordered the women to dip their pinkies into a baggie of ecstasy, a synthetic psychoactive drug chemically similar to methamphetamine and mescaline. If they failed to earn their nightly $4,000 minimum, which happened often, Franklin forced them to sleep in Payne’s Ford Focus. The women owned nothing—and shared everything from toothbrushes to underwear. Often, they were forced to dress in matching jeans, boots and blouses that showed lots of cleavage.
Every so often, Franklin took them shopping. Today, Leary wonders what people thought when they saw Franklin, a tall Black man with dreadlocks, leading five white women through Walmart at 11 p.m. He also let them buy presents for their kids. But when Leary visited her three children in Lafayette, Colo., Payne always went along. Leary was never allowed to be alone.
Leary and the other women also had to ask permission to do anything by themselves, be it use the bathroom or take a carrot from the refrigerator. They lived in constant fear of Franklin’s physical abuse. Anything might set him off, Leary said, such as an unkempt house or use of drugs other than what Franklin allotted.
“He was a sociopath,” Leary said. “Everything made him mad. One minute he’d be giggly and laughing, and the next minute, he’d have a girl by her neck against the wall.”
The coercion was effective.
Once, Leary and several women ended a night with a total of upwards of $9,000. As they exited the hotel in Denver, Leary saw a Greyhound bus station and urged them to buy tickets and escape with the money.
“I told them to forget the materialistic stuff we had at the house, but they were too afraid of [Franklin],” Leary said. “He was that scary.”
Leary’s tipping point came the night Franklin threatened her life. She had broken one of Franklin’s rules: she performed oral sex on a man without a condom. Unbeknownst to her, the man had taken a video and sent it to her phone, which went straight to Franklin. He called Leary, informing her that he was on his way to a Thornton hotel—about a 12-mile drive—to kill her.
Leary had little choice but to turn herself in to law enforcement, despite having a warrant out for her arrest for an outstanding traffic violation. Fearing for her life, Leary called her dad, Darrell Hodges, and asked him to come get her. He asked if Franklin was pimping her out.
“It was the hardest question in my life,” Leary said. “I had to tell him the truth.”
Hodges called the police, and officers came to the hotel room the women had used that night. Franklin did not arrive in time.
On the ride to the sheriff’s office in Brighton, Leary attempted to explain to the Adams County deputy that she was being sex trafficked.
Leary’s story fell on deaf ears. The deputy accused her of trying to get out of going to jail, but Leary insisted she wanted to be in jail to stay safe.
“He treated me like I was some dumb whore,” Leary said.
Later, Hodges bailed out his daughter, and she went to Arizona to live with her aunt. Leary locked herself in her bedroom and tuned out on illegally obtained Percocet.
King used FBI resources to keep Leary’s location unknown, but that did little to settle her nerves. She was staying in a secluded desert home where wild boars roamed free outside. On many nights, Leary heard noises or thought she saw shadows in the bushes. She was certain Franklin or one of his family members or associates were coming to kill her.
She also struggled with turning Franklin in. Despite his many crimes, she’d been groomed never to tell anyone.
Leary called King in the middle of the night on multiple occasions, because she heard a noise outside or feared Franklin was coming to get her. King always answered her calls.
“She treated me like a human being,” Leary said. “She made me feel really safe and like I had someone to help me.”
Having King on her side enabled Leary to get through the terror, and it was a tipping point in the positive way she now views law enforcement.
Leary’s friendship with King also gave her the strength she needed to face down Franklin.
Check out part three tomorrow.
If you suspect someone is being trafficked, contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or anonymously submit a tip on their website. Human trafficking information and resources are available at Uprising, a Sheridan-based nonprofit specializing in human trafficking prevention education.